East Brunswick declares Sikh Awareness Month


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EAST BRUNSWICK–Recognizing Sikhism and honoring residents who practice the religion, the East Brunswick Township Council read a proclamation declaring Sikh Awareness Month for April 2019.

“Tonight was a great moment for the Sikh community. A proclamation was made for the very first time for Sikh awareness and recognition in the Township of East Brunswick, New Jersey. I had the honor to initiate the process with Mayor [Brad] Cohen and speak on behalf of the Sikh community,” Roopreet Dovey Sawhney-Gill said, president of the MOMS Club of East Brunswick Area.

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Sikhs have been living in the United States for more than 100 years, and during the early 20th century, thousands of Sikh Americans worked on farms, in lumber mills and mines, and on the Oregon, Pacific and Eastern Railroad, according to the proclamation read by Council Vice President James Wendell during the April 8 council meeting.

“Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world and today, there are more than 30 million Sikhs worldwide and an estimated 500,000 Sikh Americans,” Wendell said. “Whereas, Vaisakhi is one of the most historically significant days of the year for Sikhs and is celebrated on April 14, 2019.”

Wendell said that 2019 is the 550th birthday of the first of 10 gurus and founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. This day is celebrated for Sikhs in the township and worldwide as Guru Nanak’s Gurpurab and is one of the most important dates in the Sikh calendar.

“Sikh Americans pursue diverse professions and make rich contributions to the social, cultural, and economic vibrancy of the United States, including service as members of the United States Armed Forces and significant contributions to our great nation in agriculture, information technology, small businesses, the hotel industry, trucking, medicine and technology,” Wendell said.

Sikh Americans distinguished themselves by fostering respect among all people through faith and service, according to Wendell.

“The Township of East Brunswick is committed to educating citizens about the world’s religions, the value of religious diversity, tolerance grounded in First Amendment principles, a culture of mutual understanding, and the diminution of violence,” Wendell said. “Today, the Township of East Brunswick seeks to further the diversity of its community and afford all residents the opportunity to better understand, recognize, and appreciate the rich history and shared experiences of Sikh Americans.”

After the proclamation was read, Sawhney-Gill, who is also Sikh, spoke on behalf of the Sikh residents. She said that Sikhs are most recognized for their men who wear turbans, their boys who wear patkas and their women with very long hair.

“The Sikh community has been the target of discrimination, intimation, harassment and hate crimes since Sept. 11 [2001] attacks because of a collective misunderstanding of what a turban means in the Sikh faith,” Sawhney-Gill said. “Sikhs wear the turban to show their willingness to serve others in the community and their commitment to equality for all people. Ninety nine percent of individuals wearing turbans in the U.S. are of the Sikh faith.”

Sawnhey-Gill’s son Karman, who is seven, also spoke after the proclamation was read and explained how people refer to his patka as a hat.

“Thank you for making this proclamation to create awareness about Sikhs. People usually compliment me and say, ‘What a nice hat’ and then I say, ‘It’s not a hat it’s a patka on top of my hair,'” Karman said. “I have long hair that I don’t cut because in my religion [we do] not cut [our] hair. … By the time I grow up everyone will know who Sikhs are, thank you.”

Karman also held a picture frame of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. Sawnhey-Gill said the Golden Temple is where 100,000 people are fed for free every single day. About 200,000 rotis, which are Indian flatbreads, and 1.5 tons of daal, which is lentil soup, is cooked and served by volunteers in the world’s largest free community kitchen.

For more information about Sikhism, visit www.sikhcoalition.org.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.

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